Friday, September 27, 2013

Gord finds a gold mine

My son was asked to help demolish and rebuild his neighbour's dock along the Trent-Severn channel in Fenelon Falls recently. The first small load of scrap was dropped off at the local landfill. Joe, the neighbour, paid over $120 for the privilege.

["Scrap lumber from Fenelon Falls beside my scrap box"]

I visited my son last weekend and was shown the dock renovation. When I heard about the cost of disposal I said, "Ouch!"

"I know you build a lot of birdhouses," said Joe as we surveyed the work site. (About the houses: It's true, and son Dave has many brilliant samples of my work next door to Joe.)

["Logs for future 'cabin-style' birdhouses from a few scraps"]

"Could you use any of the old cedar?" he asked. "You can have as much as you want."

Could I? Did I? Want it? I carefully pushed my eyes back into their sockets, tried to act nonchalant and hoped my thundering heart could not be heard above the sound of water slapping against the dock. I coughed gently to clear the way for my next sentence.

"Sure, I'll take a look, see what it's like. (It already looks delicious!!) Maybe I can take a few scraps home, dry them out, make a few cuts." (I'D GO RIGHT NOW IF I COULD!!)

["I came home Sunday, made my first few cuts yesterday"]

["Beautiful logs and slats. Nothing wasted but sawdust']

While slicing and dicing just two 30-inch long scraps yesterday (twice I involuntarily said, "Wow!"), I realized I'd hit gold. Final demolition is set for the long weekend in May and I've been put in charge of removing nails and stacking western red cedar in a trailer behind my son's car.


Be still my heart.

Photos by GH


Please click here to read The Workshop: "rescued shadow boxes"

Shadow Boxes: "these are for Olivia"

Two old objects from Olivia's backyard will perhaps hang in her room soon and remind her of the age of her  neighbourhood, and not to throw anything out until her dad or I have had a look see.

["A hook for a downspout (left) and part of an old axle assembly"] 

photos by gah


Please click here to read about Olivia's question what's a gord?

Shadow Box: "carry a big mug"

An old spigot looks at home atop a century-old platform of wood from my father's barn (demolished 15 years ago) and inside a three-inch-deep cedar frame. And the small mug speaks to me.

It says, "Carry a big mug."

photo by gh 


Please click here to read The Workshop: "rescued shadow boxes"

heavy load of cones

A spruce tree in the back yard is very heavy laden.

Before all spring cones have dried and dropped, another tonne of cones has ripened. the squirrels will be very, very happy. gourmet treats.

Reminds me of a budding tree on a neighbour's front yard! Spring has sprung again?

photo by gh


Anything unusual budding in your yard or garden?

Please click here to view it's a bird, it's a plane

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Dad's Navy Days: September 1943 - Italy (15)

"I remember one of the many refugees of war,
a barefoot lady dressed in a black sleeveless
dress, carrying a huge black trunk on her head."
Doug Harrison, Leading Seaman Coxswain

["Navy boys in Cairo, 1943, with a young guide, Omar"]

Fortunately my father wrote down many recollections about his time in Sicily and Italy during WW2. Many events he experienced were horrendous. Others, related to refugees of war, were solemn. And a few fall under the heading 'boys will be boys'.

About living life occasionally on the edge of some type of law he writes:

     One evening an officer and I went on a short foray and
     acquired a few chickens. The officer had a cook, and I thought
     of home as I enjoyed a couple of drumsticks in payment for my
     part in the acquisition. (Oh! We left some chickens for the
     owner.) [1992, The Norwich Gazette]

Sounds harmless enough doesn't it? However, in hand-written memoirs composed in 1975, he goes into a bit more detail:

     We weren’t too busy and the officers (who ate separately but
     had the same food as us) were growing tired of the diet, the
     same as we were, even though they had a Sicilian cook and we
     didn’t. An officer by the name of Wedd asked me if I knew where
     there were some chickens or something. I said, “Chickens, yes.”

["My father knew how to handle chickens"]

     When he said, “how be we put on some sneakers and gaffle them”
     I said, “Okay by me. Right then, tonight at dark we’ll go, but I
     get a portion for my part of the deal.” He agreed and later we
     got every chicken in the coop, rung their necks, and then took
     them to the house and had the Sicilian cook prepare them. I got
     a couple of drum sticks out the window. Next morning, the Sicilian
     cook came in as mad as hell. Someone had stole his chickens. Little
     did he know at the time he cooked them that they were his own
     because his wife looked after them. [Pg. 36, "DAD, WELL DONE"]

["Doug's hand-written notes from 1975"]

In the above telling of the story it appears the earlier note, i.e., "we left some chickens for the owner", was included so he didn't seem like a weasel to his hometown audience. If in fact he was a weasel at times, some of his concluding comments about his 30 days in Sicily and Italy reveal he was a soft-hearted one. About one aspect of his departure for Malta again he says the following:

     I learned quite a bit of the Sicilian language under Pietro's
     tutelage. He did all my errands and I would have sure liked to
     have brought him home. It broke my heart to leave him.
     ["DAD, WELL DONE"]

And for his hometown audience he writes:

     After about a month Do-go had a tearful goodbye with his
     friend Peepo. He stood on the beach and I on my landing craft,
     waving our goodbyes. What a strange war. I have thought of
     him often. [The Norwich Gazette]

["Peepo, are you still alive and well in Messina, Sicily?"]

I think of Peepo myself on occasion, as an 83 or 84-year-old man walking the streets of Messina, Sicily with a few memories of his own about WW2, the time he acted as a guide and errand-boy for a young Canadian sailor. If I ever travel to Sicily, I'll make an effort to find him. Father's notes hold some of his memories but more may still be out there.

More to follow.


Please click here to read Dad's Navy Days: September 1943 - Italy (14)

Zoom w a View: "from inside the shop"

Wednesday, 5:30 p.m. I sat down for a few minutes inside the shop and thought about my work schedule for today.

["Wood is ready for a small fire - to cook hot dogs"]

["The shop is tidy, but where did I put the mustard?"]

Schedule: Finish three shadow boxes. Eat two gourmet hot dogs.

photos gah


Please click here to read what's a gord?

"all I need is Adil's jacket"

Friend Adil will be a doctor one day and I'm convinced he'll work very hard for his many grateful patients. I know he's a hard worker because I've watched him earn a living for the last few years. While so doing, I noticed he wore a durable blue jean jacket almost down to its last threads. One day I told him to save it for posterity.

["That jacket should be hanging on a wall," I said]

["I'll build a shadow box for it," I said]

[The shadow box is now all set to go]

[Pine frame. Cedar backboard. 
Trim - pine strips w black paint]

All I need is Adil's old jean jacket.

photos gah


Please click here to view sunset on shop floor

The Workshop: some tools of the trade

before I use the red brush I have to use the blue brush. "stain the front porch" comes ahead of "paint trim on shadow boxes" on my lengthy 'to-do' list.

maybe some day I'll be awl done.

photos gah


Please click here to read keep hot dogs handy while cleaning out shop

shadow box material (2)

if you have a barrel of ale, that's wonderful.

if there's a spigot at the bottom of the barrel, that's wonderfuller.

and if there's a mug handy, that's wonderfullest.

photos GH


Please click here to read shadow box material (1)

The Workshop: "rescued shadow boxes"

I find I've been making more shadow boxes lately. I'm on a tear, some would say.

["Three more boxes on the way"]

I also find I'm using up a lot of rescued lumber in the process, for the platforms and frames.

For example, the slightly streaked platform below (upon which a rare object will soon be attached) comes from a 4" by 6" by 4 ft. piece of white pine I picked up at the Dorchester landfill site a few years ago. The reddish lumber underneath (for the box's frame) comes from an old pine shelf I found at the curb on Duchess St. several weeks ago.

["Loverly colours, I say"]

As well, the darker wood below comes from my father's barn (now completely demolished) in Norwich, and the lighter cedar (loverly stuff for a frame) comes from a friend who lives one block away.

["I wish I could have rescued the entire, century-old barn!"]

There's fun to be had in scraps.

Photos of assembled shadow boxes will appear shortly.

Photos GH


Please click here to view shadow box material

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

"shadow box material"

? something from Captain Hook's 'lost and found'?

? a gaffer?

whatever it is, I think it's great shadow box material.

photo by gah


Do you know what it is?

If you live in an old brick house, you might have a few hanging about on an outside wall.

Please click here to view The Workshop: Real whoppers (5)

"it's a bird, it's a plane"

it's a plane
flying west to east

maybe Calgary to Toronto
yesterday 6 p.m.

not a cloud in the sky
not even a bird

photo by GH


Please click here to read clothes are on the line

Dad's Navy Days: September 1943 - Italy (14)

"(Pietro's) mother did my washing and mending for
a can of peas or whatever I could scrounge.
I was all set up." ["DAD, WELL DONE"]

[Photo from SIEGE: MALTA 1940 - 1943 by E. Bradford]

In 1943, while my father was in the business of ferrying war supplies to Italy - from Sicily, across the seven-mile-wide Strait of Messina - I'm told he lived in a large Sicilian home with other seamen and coxswains, most of whom were members of the Royal Canadian Navy Volunteer Reserve (RCNVR) and Combined Operations with the 80th Flotilla. Some nights he "slept on (a) hammock on a beautifully patterned marble floor." Other times he "slung (the) hammock, covered with mosquito netting, between two orange trees in the immense yard." And thanks to 'chocolota', the Canadian Navy boys - one with the nickname 'Do-go' - soon got to know some of the locals, including a Mrs. Guiseppe and her son Pietro, referred to below as 'Peepo'.

Father writes:

     Canned food was quite plentiful now and several young
     Sicilian boys, quite under-nourished, came begging for handouts,
     especially chocolota, as they called our chocolate bars. 

     I took a boy about 11 years old under my wing when off duty.
     In one corner of the yard was a low, square, cement-walled 
     affair complete with a cement floor, tap and drain hole. It was
     here I introduced “Peepo” to Ivory soap, Colgate toothpaste
     and hair tonic for his short, shiny, ringletted black hair. My
     name was “Do-go” which I am still called today at navy reunions,
     and this boy really shone when I had finished his toilet. Peepo
     wasn’t too keen on soap and water and it certainly was obvious,
     but not for long.

     I tried to learn some of his language, and he mine (the Canadian
     Marina). Although we were from countries thousands of miles
     apart, the war had brought us together and we got along famously.
     He and I also wandered about Messina. I went with Peepo to meet
     his Mamma. I took some canned food, chocolota and compost tea,
     a complete tea in a can exactly like a sardine can, with a key
     attached as well. Although the lad’s mother was forty-ish, she
     appeared older. Over a cup of tea, and with difficulty, Mrs.
     Guiseppe said she would do some laundry for me, and mending.
     [The Norwich Gazette, circa 1992]

Daily routines, with the help of some of the locals, became easier as days passed and occasionally father received a day off. What's a 23-year old from a small Ontario village to do with his free time in Sicily or Italy?

He writes the following in the same newspaper column:

     We operated our landing craft under (peaceful) conditions with
     skeleton crews and we enjoyed time off. Some of us went to Italy,
     hitched rides on army trucks, went as far as we were allowed to go
     and had a good look at some of Italy. We lived on the edge, because
     not far from the shoulder of the asphalt road were high cliffs and
     we could look down on the Adriatic sea, its beautiful beaches
     and menacing rocks.

[Map found at]

     I remember one of the many refugees of war, a barefoot lady dressed
     in a black sleeveless dress, carrying a huge black trunk on her head.
     I suppose it contained all her earthly belongings or it was very dear
     to her, and she walked along the coastal road back toward Reggio,
     to what, I’ll never know. I couldn’t have carried that load.

"We lived on the edge," he says. And it's true. A couple of times, when free from carrying loads across the strait in barges, he came close to breaking some type of law, once because he knew a few things about chickens his pals didn't.

More to follow.


Please click here to read Dad's Navy Days: September 1943 - Italy (13)

sunset on the shop floor

as the sun set over the back fence last night
its trail gradually trekked across the shop floor

["9 out of 10 on my sweeping job"]

Photo by GH


Please click here to read favourite photo of the week

Zoom w a View: "it's a bug's life"

Before I even opened the door yesterday on my way to the shop I was greeted by a bug. I didn't know its name.

["Should I be screening visitors to the deck?']

It left when I shut the door but another critter landed on my pant leg five seconds later just as I put the key into the shop door. I felt like Dr. Doolittle.

"Hello you," I said, hoping for a reply I could understand.

But a breeze quickly carried it away.

Photos by GH


Please click here to read what's a gord?

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Dad's Navy Days: September 1943 - Italy (13)

"Some buddies and I spent my 23rd birthday singing our
lungs out in a cottage-style house near the beach..."
Leading Seaman Coxswain Doug Harrison

For about 30 days in 1943, under relatively peaceful conditions, my father delivered the material of war back and forth across the Strait of Messina, between Messina, Sicily and Reggio, Italy. Three days after D-Day Italy (September 3) he turned 23 years of age. He says he sang his lungs out, and more:

     Some buddies and I spent my 23rd birthday singing our lungs out
     in a cottage-style house near the beach, complete with a piano but
     incomplete with no roof. I had my guitar along and we all had some
     vino. About midnight with the hilarity in full swing, thunder rolled,
     the skies opened and the first rain in months came pouring in. Soaked
     inside and out we headed to where we belonged, singing “Show Me
     the Way to Go Home” as big as life and twice as natural.
     [The Norwich Gazette, circa 1992]

It seems life in Sicily wasn't bad at all at times. (I'm sure the vino helped.) Father likely thought his time on the water and routines on land were easy, at least manageable for the most part. Feeling better after his time in Hill 10 Hospital in Malta - fighting a bout with dysentery - he even performed a few medical duties for others. He writes:

     One of our stokers set up a medical tent for the civilians at Messina
     and treated them for sores and rashes. We fed them too but when
     pregnant women came we had to close up shop.
     [Pg. 35 "DAD, WELL DONE", D. Harrison's naval memoirs]

And writing for The Norwich Gazette (his home town paper) 20 years later he adds a few more details:

     In the navy we just acquired things. A tent was set up on the beach
     after we acquired some salves, soap and gauze to treat the locals who
     had rashes and cuts, etc. The word spread about the Canadian Marina
     Hospital and one morning a few days after we opened, two very
     pregnant ladies appeared. The work of mercy ended, and very quickly
     I might add, amidst our embarrassment.

["Seaforth Highlanders medics treat a Sicilian girl whose
insect bites have become infected" Photo by Terry F. Howe
found in OPERATION HUSKY by Mark Zehlke]

Though he and the stoker couldn't help pregnant women, he and other sailors were able to help Sicilian civilians in other ways thanks to their regular Navy food supplies. On two occasions father wrote about the connection he made with Mrs. Guiseppe and her son Pietro. The first time was in 1975:

     After a time we were sleeping in casas or houses and I had a helper,
     a little Sicilian boy named Pietro. First of all I scrubbed him, gave
     him toothpaste, soap and food. He was cute, about 13 or 14 years of
     age, but very small because of malnutrition. His mother did my washing
     and mending for a can of peas or whatever I could scrounge.
     I was all set up. [Pg. 35, "DAD, WELL DONE"]

Father remembered more details about his relationship with the Guiseppes twenty years later. 

More to follow.

["Doug Harrison with nephews Bill and Bob Tait, 1941"]

Above photo property of KH

Please click here to read Dad's Navy Days: September 1943 - Italy (12)

"what's a gord?"

One of my grandson's young friends found an old, dirt-covered object after her father dug up a few plants in their backyard recently. Her father said something like the following:

     "It's really quite old, Olivia. Give it to Gord and he'll
     build a shadowbox for it. Then we can hang it in your
     room and you'll have a reminder of how old our house
     is, how old our neighbourhood is."

Olivia replied:

     "That sounds great. But what's a gord?"

Answer: I'm a Gord, one who spends a bit of time several days a week in his shop, building birdhouses or shadowboxes - for odds and ends - or comfortable chairs for the odd rear end. And after a bit of painting and assembling I'll have a nice box for 'whatever it is.'

Do you know what it is? Part of a wheel or axle assembly from the horse and buggy days?

Photos by GH


If you know what the object is, let me know.

Please click here to read keep hotdogs handy while cleaning out shop

"clothes are on the line"

It's a sunny day in Londontown,
and my clothes are on the line.

I'm thinkin', I sound like Bobby Dylan
but I won't get paid a dime.

["Hit the road, Jack"]

At least I'm in a really good mood. Pass me the fried chicken.

Photos by GH


Please click here to view favourite photo of the week

Friday, September 20, 2013

From the Workshop: favourite photo of the week

It doesn't happen often and when it does I say, "Thumbs up."

['GAH' birdhouse, made in the shop, found in Pt. Stanley]

I'm not sure if this is the farthest south one of my birdhouses has travelled. I've heard (but not seen) one of my houses is nailed to a tree in Florida. Whatever the case, it felt good to see one wearing well yesterday on the north shore of Lake Erie.

Photo by GH


Please click here to read rewarding road trip to Port Stanley

"rewarding road trip to Port Stanley"

Butch McLarty and I slowly explored a hilltop retreat of small cottages on the east side of Port Stanley yesterday before venturing toward the west side of town. A pair of birdhouses atop sawn-off limbs of a small tree caught my eye and I stopped the car. One of them looked like one of mine.

["Butch watches me snap a photo of the house"]

"I see a round disc of wood, there on the closest side. I used to do that. Let's see if it bears my initials."

["If the small disc is stamped 'GAH', it's one of mine"]

It did. And I quickly recalled a set of four-plexes - one is still on my front porch for Pete's sake - that I made several years ago from Muskoka lumber.

["My wife snapped this one up in a hurry. Only bought me coffee!"]

It brought a smile to my face to see one outside, in good condition, on a stump, wearing well.

["Wearing well? I think so."]

Photos by GH and BMc


Please click here to read "one stack of cabins, coming up"

Gord's bucket list (1)

I jogged a few miles on Tuesday, played hockey on Wednesday and noticed both hips were still stiff this morning as I slowly swung out of bed. I didn't bounce. And I thought of the aging process, and of my bucket list.

The list is long and winding. It will take me to Scotland and Sicily if I can save up enough money.

["A new stamp - and sore hips - inspired a bucket entry"]

While I'm saving up I'd like to form a band, The Morning Stiffs, and be featured on a Canadian stamp in mild sepia tones.

What, with my long list of hit singles, how could I not go far?

Photo by GH


Please click here to read when I'm 64

Thursday, September 19, 2013

"when I'm 64"

It happened rather quickly. One day I was a kid, the next I was 64.

["That was some party!!"]

I enjoyed a birthday bash but was left with a few questions:

[By The Beatles: Sing along with me]

When I get older losing my hair,
Many years from now,
Will you still be sending me a valentine
Birthday greetings bottle of wine?

If I'd been out till quarter to three
Would you lock the door,
Will you still need me, will you still feed me,
When I'm sixty-four?

oo oo oo oo oo oo oo oooo
You'll be older too, (ah ah ah ah ah)
And if you say the word,
I could stay with you.

I could be handy mending a fuse
When your lights have gone.
You can knit a sweater by the fireside
Sunday mornings go for a ride.

Doing the garden, digging the weeds,
Who could ask for more?
Will you still need me, will you still feed me,
When I'm sixty-four?

Every summer we can rent a cottage
In the Isle of Wight, if it's not too dear
We shall scrimp and save
Grandchildren on your knee
Vera, Chuck, and Dave

Send me a postcard, drop me a line,
Stating point of view.
Indicate precisely what you mean to say
Yours sincerely, Wasting Away.

Give me your answer, fill in a form
Mine for evermore
Will you still need me, will you still feed me,
When I'm sixty-four?


I don't know how everything works out yet, but I'm working on it.

Photo by Doug or Edith Harrison, circa 1950


Thanks again for all the birthday wishes.

Please click here to read The Harrison Men

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

second time around?

It's common knowledge (so I've heard) that some birds set up shop two or three times each year in order to breed. So I wasn't surprised to see and hear a pair of chickadees while they explored a birdhouse hanging from a spruce branch in my yard earlier this week. I was painting inside my shop at the time and tried to get a photo of the two birds zipping around the birdhouse. Tried and failed.

["Can you spot the birdbox, center?"]

["I zoomed in, they were gone"]

["One chickadee enjoyed the shade, momentarily"]

I think they'll be back. I'll try to be ready for them.

Miserable photos by GH  


Please click here to view "keep hotdogs handy while cleaning out shop"

New Neighbour

The newest boy on the block is now at the age when he'll sit in my arms for a minute or two without trying to get away.

Not only is Evan the newest, he's the cutest. My reign is over.

Photo by DP


Please click here to view The Harrison Men